Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
After my adventures on Eiger and Aiguille du Tour with Rémy i decided to get closer to the sunny places for this long w-end. I took off Oct 30-31 and we headed off south with Renaud. He was still hurt from Le Chant du Cygne so we decided beforehand that i would concentrate on the leading and we would just do pleasure routes in Vercors, not longer than 200m...
The first stop was Mont Aiguille, a very mysterious and bedeviled mountain to me. We have already passed by there, but never for a climb. There used to be plenty of legends around it as people never managed to find an easy way to the top before mid-XXth century. The enchanted mountain - and it does look very much like it!
Emmanuel, my friend from Grenoble, did a Voie des Etudiants there that he recommended to me, so we were set with a plan. After the usual 8 hours and a shopping spree at Decathlon that happily finished for me with a pair of Nordica touring skis, we started up the hike. It was a pleasant, curving road through the autumnal forest. It got a bit strenuous at the last stretch, but we did get at the base, already bewildered at the summer temps we were getting. I started up the first pitch - and immidiately things started goind wrong - higher i went , harder it got. I got into slings. I spent 1hr. Finally Renaud cried that he could give it a try if i couldn't do it. I belayed him off a bolt, and he took an easy chimney to my right to the next belay. People rappelling off the route told us it was some kind of a direct variation in 6c-7a range. I continued leading but Renaud had already miraculously recovered and willing to get on the sharp end as well. I got scared off the overhanging 6a+ and he effortlessly swam through it. After another hard pitch we were done with the hard part. Rapelling and enjoying a very nice sunset we got down with a headlamp.
Next day was Archianne - a lost cirque in Drome, drouance valley. The place does look promissng with a very inviting red pillar - la paroie rouge - where some routes are still calling my name. Supposedly a heaven for modern aid climbing in the region. We headed to do Fruits de la Patience, recommended again by Manu. First pitch looked very discouraging for me and i failed silently following this supposedly 6a+ that seemed the hardest pitch on the route to me. Another party was on our heels, locals from Villard. It got too hot on slabby 6b pitch, then perfect on the higher, best part. Last 4-5 pitches were really good, although all of us had to aid through the 6c+ pitch.
Next stop, Trois Becs, a range with silex rock, and a route called Parfum d'Opale recommended to us by the party the day before. The approach was very steap, and the views amazing - with no climbers in site. Rock very different indeed with very few bolts (5-6 per pitch for 50 meters on 6a/b technical slabby terrain). This easily led to my sissying out of it again and Renaud getting us to the top - a great top indeed, green meadows with evening sun getting our moods up after the shadowwy east-facing wall. Certainly a route to recommend.
We decided to finish in Omblèze, a reputed area to the west. Unfortunately the Moulin de la Pipe was full and we had to camp again. Not big deal, next day we were under the Faubourg wall. Hirondelle des Faubourgs was listed in Arnaud Petit 'best faces in europe' book, and we decided to give it a go. The first 4 pitches were the overhanging yellow kind at which i suck, especially at 6b+/6c level. However further climbing was more enjoyable, i even managed to lead cleanly a 6a+, and then rested twice on the final 6b that Arnaud calls one of the finest in France - and indeed it is very beautiful climbing on compact grey limestone.
That was it for the trip and we decided to sleep that night in belgium - which we finally did after 2am.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Here is Laurent following an awesome 6a+ in the middle of connection.
Sunday the weather was really good, with a sunny start. We did go to Tete d'Aval and did Pillier Rouge Hebdo, the easiest route on the cliff, going up the 300m red pillar. Very impressive face with high-quality rock and more potential left. Our route felt pretty sandbagged for its 5 and 6a ratings and we finished 6h afterwards pretty happy with our effort. The first couple of pitches were not perfect, but the higher we went, the better it became. Another objective to get back to whenever i move to Grenoble area with more time on my hands.
At 20 38 i was peacefully sitting at Argentiere la Bessee railway station and raping its vending machine for any remaining food. The night in the train was spent dreaming about this big boy.
Friday, September 29, 2006
The adventure started that same saturday night with driving to the Vazzoler refuge in the Civetta range (Paolo, thanks for the advice!). After 1,5 hour moonlit approach, we had some trouble finding the winter room - and finished by entering through a window into the shower, and then finding some beds and sleeping thus. Sunday morning found us hezitant because of a grey and rather unfriendly sky. Still determined, we decided to go check it out. Our objective for the day was the route called Solda, apparently one of the best in that grade (6- UIAA) in Civetta and comparable in length and difficulty to Katia Monte (400m). It goes up this -
It's Torre di Babel, maybe not the most impressive of them all around there but definitely very inspiring anyway (here is a picture of Vazzoler refuge and Torre Venezia that i really like too, maybe one of the next objectives)
At the bottom i could not resist giving it a go. I got lost already on the first pitch, having to make my own anchor and seeing afterwards the real belay 10m to my right. Next chrtur got lost as well - here he is leading one of the first pitches -
Then somehow i found the way again, we persisted on like that, off and on route until the mid-tower grassy ledge. From there routefinding became easier - and the climbing really delightful. Great rock, good protection and awesome moves. We finished the last pitch with some snowflakes just to give us a feel of what all those clouds were about. Here is a view from the route -
After several rappels and some exciting scree we got down, and back to the car from the refuge by 10 pm, just in time for a good pasta in Agordo.
On Monday we slept. And slept again. When the sleeping was finally over, we decided to try smth near Sella as approaches there are easier. We went up the first two pitches of Grosse Micheluzzi route on Piz Ciaves, only to notice that we were too tired, too long, and too worried about the clouds around. Rapping down and driving around lake garda taking pictures of lemon trees was the last thing on the menu. Good trip.
So I thought I wouldn’t write it. Not again. This whole TR business – especially now, sitting in front of a dark window at work, knowing that there is only sleet, rain and cold out there waiting for me. But then the details are still so vivid in my head. And I feel them zoning out on me – pretty soon my brain will decide that some of it is garbage, will let some other holds break off, make mashed patatos of other parts, and finally I will have a name, Calanques, in my mind, not representing anything in particular, just another old yellow page. It better be a nice white virtual page instead, running the risk of IT viruses rather than my brain’s bizarre workings. And then, I need to show those awesome pictures to the world one way or another, so there goes…
Gabe here. Ah yes, another TR. Lucky for me, Julia has already done most of the work! But I’ll jump in to add my own perspective, because it was a magical trip for me, and I’d like to try to capture some of the feel.
“Another friend of yours, hmmm?” said mom, after I informed her of my travel plan – going again south, but this time all the way south. “Yup, and this one even sings at the opera!” I told her with a grin. I met Gabe as planned at Gare St. Charles and our adventure started right away in our little new friend – Fiat Punto. Finding Cassis was not the easiest objective ever, but we somehow managed our first assignment as a team. The second assignment was less trivial – Traversée sans Retour was its name, and Fear its nickname.
Pardon me while I interrupt again (arrogant Americans – no manners). But there’s a lot wrapped up for me in the name of the climb: “Traversée sans Retour” – only after I started the climb did I figure out what the name meant in English. “Traverse with no return”. A “One Way Traverse”. It’s like the punchline of the old joke – “But officer, I was only going one way!”
Our routefinding difficulties started early. In fact, they started the night before! We were headed out on the main road from Marseille that led straight to Cassis, but somehow we thought it was wrong, and I turned around. Wrong way! A foreshadowing of things to come. Sure, the first outing had to be memorable. Having seen the last weather forecast, I knew we had to expect rain on Sunday. That is why I wanted to give it all out on the first day.
Our first sunlight of southern France met us already on our way to a parking lot in Port Miou. That was a curvatious way, and we finally parked at the only parking lot we were able to find, additional 30 min march away. And why did we have to walk an extra 30 minutes? Because we drove around for forty frickin’ minutes looking for the turn that would take us to the correct parking lot. Dammit, where was it?! We later discovered that the correct road to take was marked with a "wrong way" sign. And get this - the one way sign was a "suggestion" with fine print. I'd never seen a one-way sign with fine print before, and somehow in the early morning twilight we thought it was a simple “one way” road. :rolling eyes:
We started walking already an hour behind schedule for our one-hour approach. Two hours later we were happily arrived at the Calanque d’En Vau, looking for the access to the Plateau of Castelvieil. Imagine an island in the blue Mediterranean sea, formed by white rock walls 200 m high, with just a couple of trees and bushes on top, and linked to the mainland by a narrow strip of solid ground, and you will know why that name sounds so appealing. En Vau is one of the best climbing areas around. Although the guidebook will tell you a lot about the ‘éloignement’ and ‘adventure ground’, it does serve as a home to numerous hikers willing to have a beach all to themselves, coming from either sea or land. (Picture - Calanque d’En Vau from the Plateau) But all those people do not get to Castelvieil. That is climbers’ domain, and we were about to learn why. We went up what supposedly looked like a trail. Oh, it was a clear trail all right, winding up scree, then through and around thick bushes, until... it stopped. Turns out, we'd followed up a trail that led – down from a standard rappel descent! Another trouble with wrong way streets!
Vertical terrain. After some hapless research by Gabe and myself in turn, I headed for my harness. Yes, there was an option to go down and look for another trail. But who considers options like that when you call yourself a climber?! Isn’t climbing THE skill supposed to get you up there? And going as straight as your eyes can do it? After getting a rope to trail behind me, I felt reassured and confidently started upwards. The first couple of moves felt easy, the first nut went it – we were having our adventure already! Next couple of moves started being tricky. That nut looked desperately lonely and far below. I grabbed a tree. Or rather that weak green thing other people would call a bush. I followed a chimney; I placed a couple more nuts (we had many draws and a couple of nuts with us as this was supposedly a relaxed sport climbing trip to the sunny France, mother of them all, sport climbers!) and finally found a rap station that left me at ease about the direction of our travel. Uff, that was pretty exciting!
I have to interrupt again. Julia impressed the hell out me here. When it comes to climbing on choss, without the right gear – she’s got a lot of guts!
Thank god there was one experienced mountaineer in our party, or I’d still be at the bottom of that gully whimpering! I decided not to consult the time anymore. I also remembered that my other guidebook only mentioned distances in km and not the actual time it took to get to places for some obscure reason. However, our approach was not done yet. We spent another half hour walking circles on top of the Plateau to eventually, and hopelessly, remark that mere meters away from where we had initially finished our little “first pitch,” there was le Trou du Cannon. Those speaking French maybe guessed already – a big hole, through which we were to rap down to our traverse. Yes, our first route was supposed to be a 10-pitch traverse, with a 6b crux, and many 4s, 5s and 6s in between, going half way around the Castelvieil Plateau. But to get to the start of the traverse, we decided instead of stupidly rapping to it from the top (and we did not have double ropes to make all those raps anyway) to do another traverse, called Traversée Ramond.
The guidebook modestly didn’t mention anything about it, only showing what looked like 2 pitches of 4c on the topo. (Picture – the rappel down Trou du Cannon) The rappel was magnificent. It resembled more a caving exercice if looking at the rock formations around, but then the sea and trees below reassured we were far from any kind of a cave. Gabe easily led off into the traverse. Then I went off, we simulclimbed, then we rapped, then we simulclimbed again, then we finally got to the end of the ledge system we were following – after what seemed more then 4 full rope lengths…Here we were supposed to do another 3 raps to really get to the start of our route. I decided not to look at the sun so as not to be able to tell time that way either. Gabe set up the first and second raps. Next one was mine. Things suddenly did not look that glamorous any more. There was nothing green left. There was only white rock and blue sea below. Not the picture-perfect blue mass, radiating warmth and pleasure, but stressed, foamy and menacing dark depths, crushing every couple of mili-seconds into the rock with a centuries-long hatred, determined to get through, to vanquish, to destroy. There was also a roof. And the rope hung freely from it downwards. The ends were almost in the water. ‘This is scary’ thought and said I.
But I was the Ukrainian Strength, I was fearless, I was a climber. And climbers should do their thing, rap, not look down etc. And then, this wasn’t even mountains, there was no glacier, no avalanches, no crackling bergshrunds or whistling stones. I made a big smile (can you tell it’s forced? See picture) to Gabe and went off.
Let me set the record straight. I think the conversation went something like this. G: “I guess the rap goes down there somewhere.” J: “Whoa, you think so?” G: “Um, yeah, I guess, I mean, where else would it go?” J: “Okay, go ahead.” G: “No, it’s your turn. Besides, I’m scared for my mommy, and I didn’t bring a change of underwear.” Okay, I didn’t actually say the part about being scared out loud, but Julia must have seen my legs about to buckle, because she valiantly threaded her rappel device, and down she went.
Half way down, I somehow was still 3 or 4 horizontal meters away from the wall, and from a station. My rope ends were in the water. Also still 3 or 4 meters from the wall. Things were definitely not glamorous any longer. I cried out to Gabe, looked around again and got out my Tblock. Finally, that thing on my harness was getting some use. Carefully I set up my system and started slowly moving up. But then, after some time, I realized I was not exactly getting any progress. Oh, Tblock does not actually work when you try getting up a rappel with it, as it is only set up on one strand of the rope! Newbie 101 (or 201). It took me a nice half hour of hanging over the crushing waves to figure out what was wrong, setting up another system with prussiks, and finally starting to really move painfully upwards. Yup, practicing self rescue in Quincy Quarries or even jumarring in Zion has not taught me everything about this skill yet. But I made it. Gabe was patiently waiting for me, I allowed myself only one doubtful look up, we quickly reevaluated the situation and Gabe went off, downclimbing the rappel this time.
That worked, and, oh joy! we were at what appeared the belay after the first pitch of our route. ‘One of the best routes in France’ I was told. Gabe led off. Downwards. And traversing. His next piece was 50 feet away, a slung horn. The sea (the crushing, foaming, all-devouring monster, not the nice-blue-warm sea kind) was 20 feet below me. Next hour, while Gabe was finishing his pitch (not exactly an easy 5c traverse), dealing with monstrous rope drag, route finding etc. I was contemplating the moment I would have to leave the security of my anchor (those two rusty pitons that made me keep the left toe and right pinky stance upright without breathing out too much for all that time). That time came. I had to move. I did. I had to. I couldn’t see Gabe anyway, and he could not take up slack either as the rope was stuck somewhere in front of me. Things were, what the French guidebook effectively called ‘terrain d’aventure’. I somehow joined Gabe. Not sure how long that pitch took, but it felt like an eternity. I had to gather up my strength and take up the next lead. That brought us to what we decided was a perfect lunch ledge. That was the most pleasant and relaxed moment of the day.
Maybe at that time I first started thinking about water. Initially I took a little less then 1.5 liter with me. Half of it was already gone. The day was hot. And we were at what appeared to be…hmm, either second, third or fourth belay of our route…Anyway, after some consideration and deliberation we decided that our way was down as the only bolt at the lunch ledge was also equipped with an even lonelier rap ring. Gabe courageously took up the rap, found an awesome window-arch, and spent another 15 min there trying to figure what would look like the most probable anchor. Did I mention we only had a couple of nuts with us? Oh, and so far we maybe met 10 bolts on the route. That including all the rap stations…
I got down. I think that is also the first time we noticed there was a party behind us. That felt somehow reassuring. There were people on this thing even later then us? Wow, that’s awesome, they probably know the way, and we’re probably not that far from the end anyway (left side of the brain moaning and asking the right side not to mention anything about those other 8 pitches, all harder then the ones we’ve already done, remaining in front of us)! (Picture – view of the Castelviel Plateau from la Brèche de Castelviel, the first easy traverse with its 2 pitches began with all that greenery in the middle and the raps to start the Traversee Sans Retour were somewhere at the horizon, just at the end of the horizontal ledge system) Those good hopes were very quickly destroyed when the party started yelling to us from the lunch ledge if they should rap from there or continue traversing. Hmm, they seemed somehow lost too…
Thankfully the left side of my brain successfully managed to shut down whatever the right side was trying to mumble, and I just concentrated on going up. A piton, a quick step up, and another piton for an anchor. But I have a ledge, so I am good, I can belay Gabe up. He quickly finishes the next pitch and we come to what looks like another rap. The topo says that there are only 2 raps on our route, and the second rap is after the 6b crux. So maybe we somehow got through the crux? I even can glimpse the last, supposedly 4c ramp on which we have to finish the traverse. It looks surprisingly far away – but the right side of my brain is silent, and the left one does not know how to ask questions, is tired and thirsty, and can’t concentrate on too many things at a time anyway. We are again in a mini-Calanque or mini-cirque – a half circle formed by 200m walls, with sea (still the crushing one) below. After a nice stroll we get to a next window in the rock. That window gives us a very unreassuring site. It’s one more cirque. But it finishes like a cave with a huge overhanging wall above. The way from the window is unclear. This whole window thing reminds me of some thriller about ‘window into devil’s quarters’, from which all the evil will fly out at us at any moment. Ok, there is a shiny bolt on the wall to the right of the window. It is not clear how to get there or where to go from there, but the bolt is shines to us with all its splendor and persuasive strength. Gabe is the strong one, I give up easily my lead to him. He quickly gets it all figured out, clips some invisible pitons and disappears from view. The party behind us (brothers Georges and Pierre, in their 40ies, confirmed Chamonix climbers) comforts me that Gabe is doing great out there as I cannot see a thing from my window stance. I come up, pretty sure that this is the crux of the route, rapidly get the gear for the next pitch, and go again. First move takes me a while. Second move takes even longer. The gear is great on this pitch so far – I can see three pieces of cordelette strung through three pitons, each 6-10 feet apart. Whatever the difficulty, but I determinedly clip (right side of the brain flashes ‘no, no, don’t even try to look at those pitons’ – it is getting the flare from the left side on how to keep me sane for a while longer) and go.
But after I traverse right to the last visible piton – and find a rap station at my feet – my reasonable thought leaves me for good. There are two options from here. Straight up – a ledge where my piton sits, and then 10 meters higher I can see more cordelettes hanging, pointing at a high traverse. The only problem is, the rock is bare, white, holdless and dead vertical between the piton and the cordelettes. I know this piton will not hold a fall. Then there is the second option. So you see, there was this window onto devil’s quarters we did not use. Instead we traversed through the outside of the first mini-cirque to only come to that same devil’s quarters’ second cirque, just a bit higher, closer to the roof. And there are bolts showing a traverse entering that cirque. A very scary-looking traverse. The bolts are just below the roof, then there is another foot of a vertical slimy wall, and then there is nothing. Oh, I forget, there is sea. Below. The foamy crushing beast sea, 100 meters below. Sure there is a third option, there is always a third option. That is bring up Gabe and let him do the thinking, the leading, and everything else – as I am tired, épuisée, exhausted, drained and weary. Did I say thirsty? Oh, I think I also forgot to mention the sun has clearly set at that time – even my optimistic left side of the brain could not deny it any longer.
Gabe came up. He looked up, he looked right. Then we, even without consulting, offered to Pierre to take over the next lead as we were not sure what to do – or to put it clearly paralyzed by fear to the point of not being able to move forward, even if it were light out.
My perspective: It was a real dilemma. The guidebook seemed to say up, traverse, and then rap back down. But there was no way up. The frustrating thing was that I could see so clearly where we were trying to get to. The traverse clearly continued, just 30 to our right. Unfortunately, that 30 feet was made up of pure air - 300 vertical feet of it, resting on nothing but the water below.
So if we couldn’t go up, and we couldn’t walk on air, then we needed to delve into the cave, and that way looked pretty damn hard, and was almost certainly off-route. We were at an impasse. And then the sun set.
Pierre confidently came over. He looked up, then right, then with more surprising confidence (oh, those Frenchies!) went right into the dark. Oh, I think I meant crawled, as to get to the first bolt there was only a ledge, maybe 50 cm high, on which you could crawl on your stomach if you really really tried. So Pierre crawled, got the first bolt, looked into the dark again, concerted with his brother and then crawled back to us. It was a long time since things were no longer glamorous. Now they were grim. We were in the dark. 3 of us at the station (an old piton and a slung horn). Pierre decided he would be unable to reverse the moves to get to his brother, and the cordelettes with those nice pitons were not sure to hold his body weight, nothing be said of a fall.
Things were actually not that bad – we could have had a hanging belay, be injured, frozen, broken under a heap of ice or snow debris on some God forgotten pile of rock. We had instead a large (2 sq feet) ledge all for ourselves, a view on an endless sea, a moon and even a lullaby sung by those crushing foaming beastly waves just a hundred meters lower. I said that we could only die from thirst, and that would take maximum three days. We really would be stuck only if it rained, but then we would not die from thirst as we could always collect water into our helmets.
My partners thought I had a combative spirit. I rejoiced. I also decided not to be claustrophobic and get the best use possible out of that belly-crawling ledge we had all for ourselves. The preparations were quick, and so went my first unexpected bivouac on a climb. At least our lodging dilemma for the night was pretty much solved.
Haha! How to get a night of free lodging while staying in southern France, right? There was a little crevice in the rock right next to the anchor, just big enough for two small people. Julia and I had gotten there first (so we had squatters’ rights). Pierre tried to fit in too, but it was impossible, and he didn't have sufficient gear to make a safe anchor further along the traverse. So he settled himself as well as he could, sitting on a little ledge, feet dangling over the abyss. I woke every thirty minutes or so with shooting pains in whichever hip was taking my weight on the rock. I would turn over to the other side, waking Julia as I did so. Damn her – at least she had a jacket, which I stupidly did not! Often when I woke, I would hear Pierre out there, shuffling around a little. As frigid and stiff as I was, I could barely begin to imagine his misery. So I tried not to worry about him, and simply tried to sleep. I must have finally slept because I woke to a gray light that told me the sun was already up somewhere behind heavy clouds, and Pierre and his brother were up and moving around.
The morning found us cramped, cold, thirsty and hungry. And still wondering at where we were, what did that whole topo thing want to say by its meaningless horizontal and vertical lines in all directions, and pointing to each other all the pieces of pro we could see or imagine around (up to 15 or more). At last, Gabe took up his courage into his hands and started off for, as far as I was concerned, the scariest ever traverse to our right. It was still pretty dark inside the cave, but the glimmer of bolts were appearing out of the dim.
Someone had to do something, so I took the rack of draws, Julia belayed me, and I started crawling through the crack, in search of the first bolt.
Crawling on his belly, with ballerina steps afterwards, he somehow got to one bolt, then the next. Then he saw more bolts. Well I'm not ashamed to say that I used extensive aid to get through the traverse, but get through it I did. It was aid! After Touchstone in Zion, he went through the whole thing rapidly and left us agape with admiration. Mmm, I had to do it next. Another ‘scariest’ pitch of my life…At least it always looks that way before I go for it. The good thing about action is that it makes you forget all the mental fears and misgivings. Imagination gets shut off, and that’s when brain for once unites with body for an accomplishment. It took me some time to convince my brain of all this. Then I went for it, and did it (not that there was much choice anyway). Pierre and Georges followed.
We were not through yet though. Next pitch looked even less reassuring as it boasted only two bolts for the whole of its 30-meter traverse out of our demon furnace cirque (the first traverse brought us in, the second had to bring us out). This time Pierre from the other party showed what he was made of, took up the sharp end and easily went off.
I think the conversation went something like this: P: Chapeau! (Nice lead). You would like the next one? G: Oh, I don’t mind if you take it. P: You can have it if you like. G: No, really, I want my mommy, and I’ve decided I’m giving up climbing forever, so I am going to zip myself into my backpack now and I would like you to carry me the rest of the way, thanks! Except the last sentence came out sounding more like “I’m a little tired”, but he knew what I meant. Thank you thank you thank you, Pierre!
I managed to follow Pierre’s pitch cleanly. Soon we were all four past the gap, and back on route! We were going to make it. As we had two ropes, I decided to shut up my brain this time with a Tyrolean traverse, and things went much quicker, with much lower psychological price for it.
Finally we were out – on a huge ledge, in the sun, with a visible, plausible way out! The weather was still awesome (there is good grounding to calling this one of the sunniest spots of the country), we were all in one piece, even our bivy spot looked more sexy in the daylight. Then we knew we were out of it, despite it already being noon, our mouths being extra dry and our tongues hanging out, like Bedouins after a couple of weeks of a desert march. Even our cell phones started working again (oh, cell phones, that useless piece of extra weight, but what modern climber doesn’t proudly carry at least one instead of a PowerBar or an extra biner?).
The first thing my mom managed to tell me was ‘call the hotel, call the hotel, they are going to shoot your baggage!’. Yup, we left our bags at the hotel the day before, saying that we would pick them up that same evening. However we never made it to our hotel. My mom said the hotel called the police and police was coming to shoot through our baggage, as we could be terrorists wanting to set up a bomb at the hotel. Very exciting!
At that moment my phone connection stopped working and all my tries to reach the hotel failed relentlessly. Oh well, that was not any big worry for me anymore. What things can’t you deal with in this life?! Few are absolutely bad, although many are irksome.
G: Your mom said they’re doing what with our bags? Blowing them up?!!
Our traverse continued, mostly unroped now, through a system of ledges, with another short Tyrolean, an awesome chimney-cave (very like Tunnel Vision in Red Rocks, with even more fun formations, hanging stalagmites, pockets and any other type of holds that it will take another half a century for the hold manufacturers to replicate), a final 7a (for Gabe, and A0 for all other unfortunate feeble humans) to gloriously bring us to the top as the sun started to join the sea again. (Picture – one, rather interesting part of the unroped traverse) During our long hike back (sure, 1h! I would call this a guidebook syndrome – see Tom Swain’s approach timing references for various Red Rocks jewels – and try running with him!) I couldn’t resist accosting a couple of happily hiking tourists with a ‘Please, do you have some water left? We’ve spent the last two days in here without any!’ with a desperate look of a lost child on my face, which worked miraculously well and procured us almost 2 full 1,5 liter bottles.
**** Hmm, that much for the first two days makes it already a very long TR. I will have to stick with mere naming for the following days – as we did climb consecutively for 8 days during the trip, although most of it was much less exciting then the first two days. Monday, the rest day, was spent at the sport crag of Tiragna, clipping draws and admiring the rock texture. A sport crag, as there are so many out there these days, with its sport crowd of weekend warriors and a couple of project-obsessed guys. Tuesday we were ready for adventure again, and that was reserved for another ‘Best Route of France’. Judged by our now experienced eye, the guidebook promised a much more straightforward approach, with things being bolted all the way, going straight up most of the time, and no ‘adventure terrain’ or ‘bring a couple of coinçeurs just in case’ remarks. La Gutenberg on Socle de la Candelle, and then la Centrale on la Cancelle herself were a swan’s song for us. Climbing started with a 5c to end with a 6b+, with 8 outstanding 6a pitches in between. Very, very beautiful, face, crack, stemming, roofs, more traverses out of this world (reminiscent of Spigolo Gallo on Cime Piccola of the Dolomites), and a final boulder problem made it an unforgettable day, although much less charged with psychedelic impulses. (Picture – me flying on La Candelle)
We spent another rest day exploring la Calanque de Morgiou, with its most beautiful port of the world – straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. The exploring culminated on Cret St Michel, with a 5-pitch, more bolted than not 6b, where I even managed to lead the last, outstanding pitch up the grand dièdre, although Gabe did an even more outstanding job onsighting the first 6b+ pitch, where I had to swear in all my native or not so native languages to get up. We finished with a headlamp, but the walk down was cake, and the port at night made me imagine all those scenses out of Hemingway or Margarite Duras, with pastis drinking and romantic, wild sailors.
It was time for an adventure day again, and that was to happen in la Calanque de l’Oule this time, where we decided to look for another classic, les Futurs Croulants. That was a wise decision, as we did look for it – for half a day, without actually finding the route…But the access to the place was lots of fun in itself, including some more cave-crawling through le Trou du Serpent (yup, as exciting as the name suggests), scree walking over precipices etc. and despite mine and Gabe’s attempts to lead the first pitch on three different routes, we decided that things looked like much more adventure than we could bear and we opted for a bolted line instead, les Cacochymes, only 3 pitches after more than half a day of hiking and wondering around, that still surprised us by the quality of climbing and views. After this adventure without spice we spent another day waiting for rain at Rocher du Renard, where rain did find us, after completing la Diedre du Renard (awesome, awesome last 6a pitch) and a couple of other by-standing routes. Saturday, our last climbing day, had to bring a culmination.
It was to be l’Armata Callanqua, a newly opened route (2001) to the furthest right of la Candelle, counting three 6a pitches at its bottom part (le Socle), another three 6a pitches on the intermediate part, and 5 more pitches from 6b to 6c on the top part, la Candelle itself. Who could resist a dessert served on an azure-blue plate and covered with white sparkling cream-chantilly? I guess we could, as we woke up 3h after the wake-up time (4 am)…but then the temptation was too strong – we looked at each other, looked at our tent, felt our train tickets in our pockets, and went for the car. We could still do it! When we got to the last, hardest part, it was already 3 pm. We looked at each other again, and after a minute’s hesitation I led up the pitch. Knowing where the rappel was, and having nice new shiny bolts all the way to it helped, and with the last sunrays we were already finishing our roped maneuvers.
We got it right this time! And what a route! The last 6c pitch was even apparently the highest onsight for Gabe’s sport record. The only sad part was our departure planned for the next day. (Picture – me consuming a Nutella sandwich midway on la Candelle, looking forward to future adventures, on sea or land, as long as rock is somehow involved!)
It’s been there for a while – maybe even before I started climbing altogether. Maybe that Stallone movie, or the name from Breashears’s book, or the mountain call made it all up in my head. I need mountains. This whole Europe move idea was to get closer to some of those old heroic deeds, ascents full of unknown by bearded guys with balls and pitons and balls again, those names with German (!!!), Italian or French connotations that I keep stumbling upon on paper and still have trouble imagining. Like Bonnatti doing a route up a Cima in winter, sleeping there in his bivy sack, proud, hungry and alone. Or a Messner looking up a new line over his brother’s shoulder. But let’s get back to the already stinky car, or rather get out and start the sleep part on some bike road under Innsbruck. Not too bad of an idea – and the moment we are out of the car I can feel the mountains around me. It’s been dark for a while, but they are there, breathing under the starry sky.
The wake up call comes up in a cruel, wet and dark shape. Oh well, let’s drive again. We make our triumphal entry to the country of pasta under torrential rains and empty stomach. Only when we finally get to the Passo di Sella do we stop to get the stove out and courageously start cooking. Walls. They are there. Despite the clouds, the rain and the total absence of any humans – or because of it. Yeah, that’s the place.
But that’s not the time. We pass the day in the car, exploring the valley, having good pasta, getting wet and all those things over again. Driving through a couple of passes, figuring out where the Viajolet towers are (can’t see anything anyway, some old Rosengarten sign and postcards make us feel better), wondering at the snows of Marmolada (picture left) and crossing paths with some unhappy tourists like us makes the rain finally stop. Back to Passo di Sella (picture right), we finally get a look up our first objective – First Sella Tower. A pimple for mountain goats, that’s what it is compared to the bystanders such as Piz Ciaves or Piz Pordoi. 22 pitches of UIAA grade 6 (5.9) to get to the top of one or 26 to the top of the other. MMM, let’s camp.
Saturday is sunny. Oh my, and cold. When we get to the top of the pass, it’s around freezing, down jacket is out, sun is out, and somehow both go together. Dolomites’ approaches are just great. The roads are there in the best places – that’s what having a couple of wars in a good setting does to you! After hours passed scrambling and bivouacking under the routes in Red Rocks this is a piece of cake. 20 min later we are under it – still alone and cold – Trenker crack. Dummies’ introduction to climbing 101. 6 pitches of fun, the hardest at 5.8
with a reassuring A0 possibility. Let’s do it. The rock is a bit similar to the limestone I’ve been climbing in Freyer for a while now, although the pro is thin and the climbing gripping. Cory gets the hardest pitch due to some screw-up with route finding (not the last one on this trip) and deals admiringly with it. A couple of pitches later we are taking in the view around (picture) and downwards, with numerous ants following in our foot prints. The climbers are out! Cold, but fun experience. Now let’s start the walk down. From what I hear, the best part of the dolomites experience. Not too bad, and a couple of hours later we are at the base again. Yup, guidebook is optimistic with its timing, but we’re still down one way or another.
So there is this other, apparently bolted line calling my name. But I see no bolts. No problem, let’s look for those later on the climb. Cory goes up, he’s supposed to find a bolted belay under the hard (10ish) pitch. I follow him – through 50m w/o pro to an anchor w/o bolts. So WTF does this go??? Oh well, I’m in a curious mood, I see a sling threaded through rock above me, let’s go up. I do. The going is not hard, but not exactly reassuring. The anchor below is not solid either. And pro isn’t there. Finally I do see a piton to my left. Maybe that’s what the Italians (or Germans in case of my guidebook) mean by bolts. Anyway, stop thinking, just get there and clip. I get there and clip. The piton almost gets out of the crack with my draw, and continues wobbling attractively in my hand. MMM…in sweat and stretch, long look up. Finally an anchor materializes some feet above. No pro. A TCU, I know it won’t hold. But let’s go. Just shut up and go. When I get to the anchor (two very old and rusty-looking bolts) I start doubting this whole Dolomites idea. The bolted climb had one piton on it. The belay stance however has cigarette butts all over it, thus reassuring me softly. I take my spirits into one hand, belay Cory up with another. Yeah, you explore now. That’s the best thing about switching leads. The mental rest is there, give up all authority, let him decide and be the man. We do look miserably off route. After some discouraging looks up, then down to that piton, than back up to the blank face, we decide to sacrifice the first gear of the trip, rap and downclimb. That’s it, the day is done.
Sunday. The weather is cloudless. Still freezing in the morning, but beautiful. Piz Ciaves. We camp right underneath. The arête has been staring at us for the whole 2 days already. There is no way to ignore it, even looking the other way I can feel it pointing upwards. It sure is a route. Abram Kante, not too bad for the 30s, UIAA 7- or 5+ A0. Sounds like my type of climb – and definitely looks like one! 12 pitches, and an unnerving-looking descent. Let’s do it. After sharing the road with more than a thousand bikers making their long way up the pass, we get to the beginning of the route (they are the real heroes, we’re just some show-offs with tinkling metal things hanging around our necks). After the first pitch some Italian dude, putting no pro for the first pitch and stretching it all out to the second belay, effortlessly passes us. Yeah, I know we’re weak, rub it in man. After admiring the bikers and the morning sunlight for some more, we start our journey up too. My turn again – the pitch looks not too bad, but quickly after the start I’m already sweating – good and bad, means my hands won’t get cold, but also means the leading is getting harder. Supposedly it’s only 5.6, but the last piton was rusty, the next pro looks far away and the corner is off-balancy just enough. Oh this trad thing, haven’t done it for a while now, breathe in and out a couple of times, remember why I’m doing this again, and finally get to a belay after what seemed like an hour. MMM way to go on a 12 pitch route on one of the easiest pitches, Julia…Ok, Cory’s lead, let’s rest. I actually have set up the belay too low, not even finishing the crux of my 5.6 pitch. Very glorious. Cory decides to take the next couple of leads.
It’s great when you start following blindly a pitch and then slowly the realization comes that the climbing is what they call ‘a classic pitch’. Beautiful yellow rock, awesome cracks, stemming and corners. The holds are big and far apart. Wow, this is good! I think I’m finally warmed up and know why I’m here. That’s in time as next pitch is mine and it’s the famous 7- or 5 A0 one. Things go smoothly and my fear is finally under control. The A has quickly its win over me, even without a battle, and the 15 meters of crux are gone in minutes in a monkey-with-the-trees style. Wow, this is awesome climbing. This is also the point where I know that we’ll make it – the crux is behind us, now only some route finding remains a challenge, and ….mmm only 7 pitches to go…
Another 60 meters and 2 pieces of pro later I take the lead. Easy terrain and good pro lead me up to an attractive open book above. But approaching the open book my enthusiasm perishes and sweaty hands make their way in. This looks like shitty rock. This looks like psychological I-need-this-worthless-TCU terrain. After half an hour of up and down, I finally realize my mistake, find a piton and the route. Sure enough, the parties behind us are already all at the same belay Cory is at, looking pissed, hot and have this what-an-incapable-is-it-out-there look I practice so often myself. Yup, that’s me…A couple of pitches later, the followers appear to be a couple of Slovenians here for the w-end, rather relaxed (with a cigarette box stripped to a helmet for better rock repellent) and chatty. After a couple more route finding moments we do get to the top.
Top is always sweet. This one is also sunny and offers a splendid view. What more to ask from life?! A cheerful descent, that’s the recipe. It’s a traverse. At least an hour’s worth of traverse following the wall on a terrace a couple of feet wide with moving rocks all over it, and looming walls above and below. A perfect spot to experience vertigo under a desert sun. The last part of the traverse is the most impressive – looking at it from a distance I start having ants down my spine and have to sit down to get back the combative spirit. What a joy when we get there and realize that it’s actually equipped with the famous via ferrata cables – just clip and go! Oh, those Italians, I appreciate them more and more. One more good day.
The next day is cloudy, our energy supplies are low, and we decide to drive further. After a couple of picturesque Italian towns we get to Falzarego pass and the Tofana (picture). Wow this mountain is calling too! After a lunch at Refugio Dibona and some mystic vues of the Ghedina route, we decide to push it to our final destination, the Zinnen. Lavaredo is a famous area, and a postcard landmark. No wonder than that we have to pay 20 euros just to be able to drive the last couple of kilometers to it. Everything is still covered in clouds, and we venture on a hiking exploration that in some strange ways takes us up to the col between Cima Grande and Cima Ovest, right in front of the Dulfer route. Fun fun places. Not fun downclimbing all that scree – at least we know now how bad the descent can be…
Next day is totally awry with constant rain and then snow until 5 pm (picture). But afterwards the weather miraculously clears up and we are even able to hike the loop road and take tasty pictures in total solitude. The Cimas look better than ever, more unapproachable too. It is hard to stay optimistic about our route plans as it is cold and windy despite the sun. The walls look very intimidating, long, high and daring. But the morning is always a better starting point, so sleep time again.
Finally a day of good weather arrives. We decide to bank it all with Gelbe Kante (picture below, the route is on the yellow arête of the tower to the left), 14 pitches, 8 of which are grade 5 or 6 UIAA (5.7 to 5.9/10ish), up the Cima Piccola – the third and smallest of the Cimas. The pictures look very appealing though, and each time I see a Kante in the name of the route, I want to do it – somehow each time the word means ‘song’ instead of arête to me, and this one is the swan song.
We are at the start of the climb around 8 and the first thing there are a couple of Italians. We hear them chatting away already during our hour’s scree approach. When we finally get to the base, the second is still half way up the first pitch. He talks endlessly and moves s l o w l y. After an hour of snail-like progress, his partner and he decide, to my certain happiness to rap. When on the ground, the first thing they do is try to convince us that it is ‘durro’ ‘durro’, or even ‘difficult’. There was also an English party behind us that looked like real mountaineers, tanned, fit and full of humor. Determination started to fade in our little party. Then I decided I wanted to risk it. Durro or not, let’s give it a shot. Cory bravely went up the first pitch, a stiff 5.8 that felt all 5.10 to me while following with a pack. Slippery and sustained. A pleasure to climb, but the pack made things rather nasty. However I was surprised to find myself full of energy the moment I did take the backpack off. Next pitch was the first crux of the route – an overhanging crack-chimney. Slowly but surly, with an awesome #4 placement, great feet and those oh so good jams, I got to the belay. Wow, we’ve done the first hard part, which means maybe we’ll be able to affront the 2 crux pitches up higher. Anyway we have one rope and retreat will be harder and harder the further we go. Let’s do it. Next 2 pitches go by quickly and I proudly set up a belay at a fixed anchor – for once I found it without a problem and didn’t even get off route. Cory comes up, looks up, and doesn’t feel good about the 5.3 above. Actually it looks overhanging. Jugs are not in site. And no, we’re not in the Gunks so 5.3s should not look like that. Exploration time, some more exploration time, the English guys are at our back again, and I realize that I did make the belay at a wrong place, again. I take over the lead, traverse way right, and finally see the route clearly. Sometimes I can be blind, but sometimes the topo also thankfully makes sense. In the meantime the English guys loose a bit of their mountaineering shine when they tell us that they lost their topo, and would love to follow us "the experienced ones" up the route, as anyway it’s their first really long route etc. We do find the right pitches and start coming closer to the hard stuff. English guys are lost behind us again, we hear sometimes their desperate "Coooory", apparently they found their topo again, but not the route. Next pitch is a traverse. It’s a climber’s dream traverse, with a disappearing overhanging face below, crazy exposure, and
good pro. Makes me think about Fiddler on the Roof, much easier, but more exposed (picture). I know I’m climbing the best route of the trip. That’s what this whole rainy waiting was for. In another pitch we get to the real business – another overhanging crack. My baby. The pro is awesome again, pitons are plenty, climbing is gripped, slow and cruxy. Breathe in and out, the usual thing, hang on just a little longer, figure out just one more sequence. And here it is, the dream hanging belay. The good thing about switching pitches on a long route – total mental rest awaits me, I look up the continuation of the overhanging offwidth, and feel relieved. I’m done with my hard leading of the day, one more pitch and we are done with the cruxes. Just another 4 or 5 pitches left. Cory does wonderfully, and there we are at another spectacular traverse. Definitely this climb just keeps getting better. Some route finding business still is ahead, some snow on
ledges, a never-found last hard pitch, and we are at the top.
A quick look around reassures me that the clouds are coming up, the dark times are close, relaxation is no more, it’s time to look for the rap route. Some scrambling and more traversing gets us to the rap ring. The book talked about ‘solid rap pitons’. Here we have one huge rap ring. It looks a lot like a ring I would imagine a huge bull has in its nose during a Spanish bullfight. It also looks like one of the best rap rings ever. I do love these Italians or whoever rebolted or reringed this route. Many rappels later we are down to the snowy descent, our favorite scree, the refuge and our canned food. Only now does the realization start entering my mind – we actually did it!
Unconquered walls remain out there…
Here i come - let's try posting this...